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Candidates spar over key tax issue in final gubernatorial debate before Kentucky election

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron sparred over a key tax policy in their final debate Tuesday night, sharpening their closing pitches to voters with two weeks left in their hard-hitting campaign for governor in Kentucky.

The Bluegrass State campaign is one of the country’s most closely watched off-year elections and could provide clues about voters’ sentiments heading into the 2024 races for the White House and control of Congress.

Beshear, who is seeking reelection to a second term in the Nov. 7 election, called for a careful approach to phasing out the state individual income tax to guarantee that revenues remain sufficient to support education, public safety and health care programs.

“I do want to continue to make those (tax) cuts, but we’ve got to do it wisely and carefully, not rashly,” the governor said during the hourlong debate shown on WKYT-TV in Lexington.

Cameron has vowed to preside eliminating the personal income tax if elected governor.

“I believe that you should have more of your hard-earned money in your pocket,” he said.

Cameron was asked if he wants to accelerate the timetable for eliminating the income tax. He responded that he wants to end the tax “in a thoughtful and responsible manner.”

Beshear promptly accused his challenger of evading the question.

“You just asked him a simple question: Will he speed it up?” Beshear said. “And he still won’t answer it.”

The gradual phase-out of the income tax was the cornerstone of a plan approved by the state’s GOP-dominated Legislature in 2022 to shift the tax burden from income to consumption.

However, the state’s individual income tax rate is set to remain the same in 2025 after the state failed to meet certain fiscal requirements needed to trigger another cut under the phaseout.

Cameron and Beshear have wrangled repeatedly over the governor’s approach to income tax cuts.

Beshear signed a measure this year that will lower the individual income tax rate by a half-percentage point to 4%, effective Jan. 1, 2024. It follows up on last year’s tax overhaul, which resulted in a reduction of the tax rate from 5% to 4.5% at the start of this year.

Beshear vetoed last year’s bill revamping portions of the state tax code. Cameron has railed against that veto throughout the campaign. Beshear objected to provisions in that bill that extended the sales tax to many more services. Republican lawmakers easily overrode his veto. As an alternative, the governor backed an unsuccessful effort last year to temporarily cut the state sales tax rate.

Bruce Schreiner And Dylan Lovan, The Associated Press

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